On my way to LeBlanc Unit Monday, a notification about a message came through. I quickly had Cindy read it to me. My Hobby Unit client was messaging me about being on site Thursday. Panicked because I go from one day to the next on a strict schedule, I had Cindy check my Thursday last week. Thankfully, I was at Green Bay Unit in the morning leaving plenty of time to “high tail it” from Fort Worth to Marlin, Texas.
After posting photos on my page, I had several people contact me to ask “are they BOTH women?” The answer is yes. They are both women and this is my second biracial same sex wedding at Hobby. The guards remembered me from my previous wedding ceremony. Why? Because I’m friendly and courteous to TDCJ Staff at all times that’s why.
My previous clients photo at Hobby Unit brought on harsh criticism and comments that I consistently deleted. Why did I delete these racist and homophobic comments? In order to protect my client. The internet has literally become a legion of bullies who will comment on damn near anything with negativity. Here’s the photo.For those unaware of this, I pose my clients for Unit photos. Why? Because they are already nervous and need direction and insight. At their wedding, I was laughing and obviously not posed or prepared for the group photo which is why my neck is at an odd angle. My clients were relieved to finally be legally married. All of my Prison clients are. The process is difficult and lengthy to marry an inmate. I don’t “normally” have an angled pose from the side but my client, Brianna, loved this photo even though I appear to be “awkwardly posed.” Stacie had encountered traffic driving to Hobby from Beaumont, Texas. Ironically, Cindy and I were just in Beaumont three days prior to being at Hobby. Because Stacie was running late, I went on in at Hobby to check in with the Unit and advise them that my client was due any minute.
By the time Stacie walked into the clearing Unit, she was very nervous and fearful of vomiting. Throughout my years as an Officiant, I have been vomited on and if someone tells me they “feel like throwing up,” I move. Thankfully though, Stacie didn’t throw up and the ceremony went well. Stacie has known her partner for 13 years.
While many assume that anyone marrying an inmate was a pen pal, I’ve yet to marry anyone who had never met the inmate in person although I did marry someone at Michael Unit who hadn’t seen her fiancée in thirty years until walking into Michael on wedding day. After leaving the Unit, Cindy and I decided to use the railroad tracks and backdrop of nature for Stacies bridal photo shoot with us.
While waiting on the photos to print or even prior to entering the visitation area, all of my clients share their story of how they met their partner. Many of these journeys are fascinating to me. Why? Because choosing to marry an inmate is a huge commitment. The relationship of marrying an inmate can often be viewed as one sided on numerous points and dedication is a factor of making the union work.
Loving an inmate is lonely and expensive. Loving an inmate is a difficult journey. Loving an inmate requires commitment.Stacie was a lot of fun and willing to try on anything I handed her as well as a hot pink cowboy hat. I love it when clients have a good time. The reason we almost always do photos after the ceremony is because clients are finally relieved the wedding is past them. They are also far more relaxed.
Stacie will be hiring Cindy and I again for their unique Vow Renewal. What makes it unique? The couple will renew their vows on Halloween with a theme revolving around black. The last themed wedding Cindy and I did was Beauty and the Beast. We loved it. I can’t wait to see Stacie again and celebrate parole of her wife at the Walls Unit.
Headed back to Fort Worth for my rehearsal at Mercado Event Center, one of my Michael Unit brides called me because the notary at Michael refused to notarize a Corrective Affidavit. This was a long shot but I asked “can you contact the other woman and get her to sign the dissolution agreement?” Luckily, she could. Problem solved. When inmates sign these Informal Marriage Affidavits, they have no real idea that this document doesn’t magically disappear but, it doesn’t. TDCJ keeps the CLM Affidavit on file and your inmate status isn’t single instead it’s Common Law Married.
Most Units WILL notarize a Corrective Affidavit for an inmate. In fact, I’m marrying my Telford Unit client in August after undoing yet another “CLM status of the inmate to someone other than her situation” held us up for over two months in the planning process.
My Roach Unit bride has had weeks of hurdles. WEEKS. I met her at the Tarrant County Clerks Office two weeks ago where she was denied issuance of a marriage license. This denial was due entirely to the law librarian not notarizing the Absentee Affidavit.
I called the librarian at Roach Unit while sitting beside my crying client and explained the “missing notary stamp situation” and more importantly, the timeline of my clients scheduled and confirmed July 17th wedding at Roach Unit.
Due to the problems of not having the notary stamp and waiting to get a notarized Affidavit for my client to purchase a marriage license, I was forced to move the confirmed date from July to August.
After waiting months to get approved and get that date at Roach Unit, Ashley was devastated. I mailed a new Absentee Affidavit obtained from the Tarrant County Clerk with the old Absentee Affidavit because an Absentee Affidavit is ONLY VALID 30 days in Texas. From the post office, I again called the law librarian to advise her of what I was sending and why if she Notarized the original that due to the delay of Unit mail, by the time Ashley received it back that it would be effectively void and useless.
It’s now been nearly two weeks since I sent the documents on Friday that arrived the following Monday. What’s the hold up? Buckle up because this one is a real struggle for me to understand and much less comprehend. First, the law librarian denied not notarizing the affidavit. I was holding it on my hand at the clerks office and obviously aware that she was incorrect. I don’t argue with anyone. Instead, I lay out the facts. I don’t have time to argue. I need solutions to problems not arguments. This Roach Unit issue was about to become even more frustrating as the days and weeks wore on.
By last Thursday on my way to Hobby, Ashley called me because she still hadn’t received the Affidavit back. Without it, she couldn’t purchase a marriage license. I had already instructed Ashley to take the Texas Premarital Class, Twogether In Texas in order to waive the three day waiting period. When I see trouble ahead, I plan ahead. When someone at the Unit blatantly refuses to perform the task they have been given, I give them every opportunity to do so. I wait. I take several calls from my hysterical client while I wait. By Thursday though with a confirmed date at Roach on August 7th, I advised Ashley to contact the Courts in Huntsville, Texas. Contacting Access To Courts is the last option when waiting for someone to do the right thing is ineffective. I never suggest this first. I only suggest it last in Texas. My reason for having Ashley contact the Courts was because the law librarian had refused to return calls to Ashley or even me regarding notarizing the Absentee Affidavit. What happened? Why was she first denying sending the document without notarizing it and then refusing to notarize the new Affidavit? I have no idea. BUT, inmates have access to legal services per the Administrative Directive.
The law librarian at Roach Unit was telling Ashley on the rare occasions that Ashley called and actually reached her in the law library that “Shane did not have access because he was in seg.”
Let’s take a minute to review that statement. The inmate didn’t have access to a notary because he was segregated? “The Access to Courts Department is a statewide program that provides services to, and for, all TDCJ offenders. All offenders are afforded some type of access to a meaningful law library that, at a minimum, contains self-help publications, pertinent case law, codes, rules, and fill-in-the-blank legal forms. Depending on the classification of the offender, he or she will either be given direct or indirect access to the law library. Offenders with direct law library access are afforded an opportunity to receive a minimum of 10 hours of access per week. Offenders with indirect law library access are delivered three items of legal research materials per day, on three alternating days per week to their housing location.”
There’s a valid reason I instructed Ashley to contact Access To Courts. The reason was that the law librarian was specifically denying or refusing to provide notary services. Inmates and even loved ones may very well be unaware of policy and procedure but, I’m not. Surprised? Don’t be. My role is by far more involved than anyone realizes.
The law librarian was at fault for sending a document she knew very well required a notary seal. Furthermore, the consistent excuses and run around while refusing to notarize the new Affidavit was illogical to me. It’s a simple procedure. Why was this happening? I couldn’t understand why this continued to drag on. The ONLY option left with a ticking clock on a scheduled date to marry at the unit that requires a marriage license was to have Ashley contact the Courts. Since the law librarian was contacted by the Courts, the notarized Affidavit is in the mail. You see, the Courts know policy and procedure. But, for those unaware of notary services to inmates, I will elaborate…
IV. Notary Public Services
A. Documents: Under both federal law (28 U.S.C. § 1746) and state law (Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 132.001), offenders incarcerated in Texas may use an unsworn declaration under penalty of perjury in place of a written declaration, verification, certification, oath, or affidavit sworn before a notary public.
Documents for which notarization is requested by an attorney, documents specifically exempted from the laws on unsworn declarations, and documents destined for another state or country requiring notary public service shall continue to require notary public service.
B. Scheduling: Offenders may request notary public service by submitting an I-60 to the unit ATC supervisor. Offenders requesting notary public service shall explain why an unsworn declaration will not be legally sufficient. Requests shall be acted upon, either denied or provided, within 72 hours of the receipt of the request.
Let’s review the Unsworn Declaration and why it cannot be used in place of an Absentee Affidavit in Texas. An Absentee Affidavit REQUIRES a notary seal. See where I’m going with this?
What is an Unsworn Declaration?
CIVIL PRACTICE AND REMEDIES CODE
TITLE 6. MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS
CHAPTER 132. UNSWORN DECLARATIONS
Sec. 132.001. UNSWORN DECLARATION. (a) Except as provided by Subsection (b), an unsworn declaration may be used in lieu of a written sworn declaration, verification, certification, oath, or affidavit required by statute or required by a rule, order, or requirement adopted as provided by law.
(b) This section does not apply to a lien required to be filed with a county clerk, an instrument concerning real or personal property required to be filed with a county clerk, or an oath of office or an oath required to be taken before a specified official other than a notary public.
(c) An unsworn declaration made under this section must be:
(1) in writing; and
(2) subscribed by the person making the declaration as true under penalty of perjury.
(d) Except as provided by Subsections (e) and (f), an unsworn declaration made under this section must include a jurat in substantially the following form:
“My name is __________ _________ ____________, my
(First) (Middle) (Last)
date of birth is _________________, and my address is
_____________, ____________, _________, ____________,
(Street) (City) (State) (Zip Code)
and __________________. I declare under penalty of
perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.
Executed in _______ County, State of ________, on the ________ day of ________, ________.
(e) An unsworn declaration made under this section by an inmate must include a jurat in substantially the following form:
“My name is __________ _________ ____________, my
(First) (Middle) (Last)
date of birth is _____________________, and my inmate
identifying number, if any, is __________________. I
am presently incarcerated in ________________________
(Corrections unit name)
in _____________, _________, _______, ____________. I
(City) (County) (State) (Zip Code)
declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct.
Executed on the _____ day of ________, _______.
I know there are folks out there who don’t love their job. I also know that there are folks out there who do. However, if your job function is being impeded because you don’t think inmates should marry or you simply want to exert power due to your position, there are valid reasons why policy and procedure exist. Unlike Ashley and Shane, I knew darn well that even in seg Shane had access to request a notary. But, rather than argue or even attempt to argue, I redirected Ashley to the Courts.
Ashley doesn’t need more stress. Ashley like all of my clients “just wants to get married.” This issue at Roach has never come up before but again, I’m well versed on inmates having access to legal services. Why? I educate myself that’s why.
Most people especially arrogant people assume they are smarter than others. I don’t tell people I’m smart. I don’t need to because I show them instead. Experience is a great teacher but knowledge is power.
The law librarian at Roach Unit for some reason that I may never understand deliberately sabotaged the Absentee Affidavit. I may never fully comprehend her reasons for sabotaging this wedding.
I recognize and realize though that there are guards who don’t believe prisoners should have the right to marry. I’m also well aware that there are people within the free sector of the world who also don’t believe inmates should have the right to marry.
A few days ago, someone not connected to me on LinkedIn commented on one of my posts “Inmates shouldn’t be allowed to marry. They are being punished.” Why he chose to voice his opinions on my post I have no idea. Generally though, I would have deleted this comment but, I chose not to. Why? Because I chose to respond instead.
Ignorance is bliss for far too many people who assume that their opinions are important. This commenter and his opinions don’t affect my clients or their lives. Opinions of others don’t dictate anyone else’s life.
My clients don’t care what others think of their unions. I don’t care what others think about my role as an open minded individual committed to making Dream Events affordable to anyone.
My role is to make life events memorable. My role is to perform a task I’ve been retained to perform. My role isn’t to argue with someone who is opinionated. Frankly, his or anyone’s else’s opinions on inmate marriage or same sex marriage or even biracial same sex inmate marriage won’t and don’t have any impact my clients or me but, I decided to use this particular opinionated person’s comment as an opportunity to advise him of my belief that “love is love” because it is.
Your frustrations can become your blessings if you look hard enough.
Monday morning, my niece and my beloved Maddy are headed to California for their big move. Cindy and I are heartbroken to see Maddy go. Our clients are too. This will be a very difficult transition for Cindy and I but, we will be in California again soon to see Maddy…